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‘Communication that makes them think, feel and do’: Beyond the Brief with Dan Fietsam, Laughlin Constable

Dan Fietsam, Laughlin Constable

To celebrate its 100th Anniversary, the 4A’s has partnered with us at The Drum to pull back the curtain and look at an industry full of problem solvers, creative types and analytical minds. But what keeps them going once the briefs are written, the campaigns executed, and the pitches won (or lost)? The Drum is now interviewing 100 people at 4A’s member agencies — across all disciplines, levels, regions, and agency types — to get a glimpse into what drives them at work and what fuels them in life.

Dan Fietsam serves as the chief creative officer at Laughlin Constable, an agency that works with clients such as the Lung Cancer Alliance, Wisconsin Department of Tourism, Sears Auto Center and Northwestern Medicine. With a background at agencies across the country, including BBDO, Publicis and DDB, Fietsam has always placed an emphasis on creative writing and storytelling.

Before joining Laughlin Constable in 2016, Fietsam led his own creative consultancy firm, The Fietsam Group, while also teaching in the graduate program at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Communications, where he earned his master’s degree in 1988.

Fietsam’s creativity and vison that he brings to the table, coupled with his dedication to teaching others about the industry, shows that he is living beyond the brief.

If you were a client for a day, what would you tell your agency?

This may sound a bit corny, but I actually always think about our ideas as if I was the client, or owned the business. I have seen, and experienced first-hand, a big creative idea rapidly impact and expand a business. So, if I were a client, I would say to the agency what I say to our agency – “Give us a big creative idea that is going to move the business forward”.

The most ridiculous request you’ve gotten from a client?

It was during the first dot-com boom. We just won a start-up digital furniture company to do their launch campaign. It was a ton of fun because they bought crazy ideas. And we pushed them even farther. We were showing a comp of an idea that involved a sheep. The client looked at the comp and then said, “Could the sheep be Siamese?” The answer to a question like that is always “yes”.

Everyone “hates” advertising. What do you think the world would be without it?

What everyone hates, including me, is bad advertising and feeling like they are being sold something. But when advertising is done at its best, people do like it, because it transcends a sales message and becomes more meaningful, even if that meaning is a disposable laugh. People don’t hate communication that makes them think, feel and do. And that’s what we try to create for our clients.

What book would you suggest to a stranger?

It depends on the stranger. But the book I have been most affected by is, with the risk of sounding like a pretentious twit, is David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest.” It’s by far the most imaginative book I have ever experienced. And with the way it is constructed with the footnotes, it feels like you’re reading the internet, before the internet was here. Additionally, I think the book presaged Trump as president.

What is an art that you cannot live without?

I have been addicted to listening and playing music since the 7th grade. I still vividly remember the first time I stood next to an amplifier and was hit with the ear-splitting explosion of an electric guitar. I have never recovered. I love any art that affects me deeply, beyond rational thought, but the one aspect of music I love most is that you can experience the moment and act of creation every time you play a song. Like you get to experience the moment of creation every time.

If your life and career were a biopic, who’d narrate it? Who’d be on the soundtrack?

Jason Schwartzman would be [the voiceover]. The Pixies, with Kim Deal on bass, would do the soundtrack.

To pitch someone from a 4A's member agency for Beyond the Brief, please complete this linked form.